Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken
|The Right Honourable
The Viscount Bracken
|First Lord of the Admiralty|
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
|Prime Minister||Winston Churchill|
|Preceded by||A. V. Alexander|
|Succeeded by||A. V. Alexander|
|Minister of Information|
20 July 1941 – 25 May 1945
|Prime Minister||Winston Churchill|
|Preceded by||Duff Cooper|
|Succeeded by||Geoffrey Lloyd|
|Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister|
|Prime Minister||Winston Churchill|
|Preceded by||Lord Dunglass|
|Succeeded by||George Harvie-Watt|
|Born||15 February 1901
Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland
|Died||8 August 1958 (aged 57)|
Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken, PC (15 February 1901 – 8 August 1958), was an Irish-born businessman and a minister in the British Conservative cabinet. He is best remembered for opposing the Bank of England's co-operation with Adolf Hitler, and for subsequently supporting Winston Churchill's prosecution of the Second World War against Hitler. He was also the founder of the modern version of the Financial Times. He served as Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945. George Orwell was a civil servant under Bracken's department during the war years.
Brendan Rendall Bracken was born in Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland, the second son and third of the four children of Joseph Kevin (J.K.) Bracken (1852–1904), builder and monumental mason, and his second wife, Hannah Agnes Ryan (1872–1928). His father had belonged to the IRB. Widowed in 1904, by 1908 Hannah Bracken had moved her family (including two stepdaughters) to Dublin, where Brendan attended St Patrick's National School, Drumcondra, until 1910, when he was transferred to the O'Connell School, run by the Irish Christian Brothers. Distressed by his misbehaviour, his mother sent him in 1915 to Mungret College, a Jesuit boarding school in County Limerick, but he bolted in 1915 and ran up hotel bills. She then sent him to Australia to live with a cousin who was a priest in Echuca, Victoria. The young man led a nomadic existence in Australia, moving often but reading avidly and acquiring a self-education.
In 1919 Bracken returned briefly to Ireland, finding his mother settled in County Meath. He distanced himself from his siblings who were in revolt over their father's inheritance, moving instead to settle in Liverpool. In 1920 he appeared at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, claiming to be 15 years old, an Australian, to have been orphaned in a bush fire, and to have a family connection to Montagu Rendell, the then-headmaster of Winchester College. Without fully believing this story, Sedbergh's headmaster, impressed by the depth of knowledge and eagerness to progress by the young Bracken, accepted him. By the end of one term he emerged having succeeded in blending his Irish republican heritage and his five formative years in Australia, with the elements and trappings of a British public school man. He might have had good reason for seeking to hide his Irish heritage as the War of Independence (1919–1921) aroused great hostility towards the Irish living in Great Britain. For whatever reason this denial became a regular feature of his personal strategy in life. A second example occurred in 1926 when he met Major-General Emmet Dalton, a former senior commander in the new Irish Army, in London. This former British Army officer turned IRA confidant, who was one of General Michael Collins's right-hand men, recalled meeting Bracken at national school in Dublin. Bracken denied this, but Dalton insisted that he remembered the smell of Bracken's corduroy trousers. A third example occurred during the Second World War when Bracken told people that his brother had been killed in action at Narvik, when in fact his brother was alive, well, and asking Brendan for money, from Ireland.
Business and political career
After Sedbergh, whose "old boy" tie he used to good effect, Bracken was briefly a schoolmaster at Bishop's Stortford College. He then made a successful career from 1922 as a magazine publisher and newspaper editor in London. His initial success was based on selling advertising space to at least cover the cost of each number. In the 1923 election he assisted Winston Churchill's unsuccessful attempt to be elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicester West, which started their political affiliation. Bracken himself stood for Parliament, being elected to the House of Commons in 1929 for the London constituency of North Paddington. Stanley Baldwin described Bracken as Churchill's "faithful chela", the Hindi word for disciple.
Many of his early magazine stories included a political flavour and he commissioned articles from a wide range of politicians such as Churchill and Mussolini. Business and politics permanently overlapped in his life, in a similar way to the career of his occasional friend Lord Beaverbrook. He needed politicians for stories and they needed the publicity given by his publications. A supporter of Winston Churchill from 1923, when Churchill was out of Parliament and in the political wilderness, in the 1930s he was invited to join Churchill's "Other Club". Their lives changed from the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, Bracken helped in moving him into Downing Street. Bracken was sworn of the Privy Council in 1940, despite his lack of ministerial experience. He served as, and was regarded as an excellent, Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945, after a short stint as Churchill's Parliamentary Private Secretary.
However, he was reportedly unpopular with his civil servants, including a Ministry of Information employees named Eric Blair, later George Orwell, who worked under Bracken on the BBC's Indian Service. He was customarily referred to by MOI employees by his initials, B.B., the same initials as the character Big Brother. Orwell also resented the war time censorship and need to manipulate information which he felt came from the highest levels of the MOI and from Bracken's office in particular. Many of the attempts to manipulate the media actually came from Government departments aside from that of Bracken, who constantly resisted his Prime Minister's desire to control the press. He was particularly vociferous in his support for the independence of the BBC, having re-structured the financial basis of the broadcaster and streamlined war-time foreign propaganda activities away from domestic reporting and news functions. His inside track with the Prime Minister was the source of intense envy and anger within both the civil service, and senior Conservative ranks. Churchill's son Randolph, also possibly envious of Bracken's close personal and political relationship with his father, summarized the jealous antipathy towards Bracken when he dismissed him as "the fantasist whose fantasies had come true".
Assists in selection of Churchill
In two matters relating to Churchill, Bracken can be said to have played a key part behind the scenes. When Neville Chamberlain prepared to resign in May 1940, his successor would be Churchill or Lord Halifax. The political issue at stake at the time was the formation of a British National Government, and the particular dilemma surrounded which of Chamberlain's potential successors would be acceptable to the Labour Party. The view in Churchill's mind was that the Labour Party would not support him, and he had therefore agreed with Chamberlain to nominate Lord Halifax. When Bracken became aware of Churchill's agreement to nominate Lord Halifax, he moved heaven and earth to convince Churchill that the Labour Party would indeed support him as Chamberlain's successor, and that Lord Halifax's appointment would hand certain victory to Hitler. Bracken advised Churchill tactically to say nothing when the three met to arrange the succession. After a deafening silence during which Churchill was expected to nominate Halifax, the latter obligingly ruled himself out and Churchill was put forward as Britain's War-time Prime Minister, having avoided any appearance of disloyalty to Chamberlain.
Support from USA 1940-41
An interesting insight into the nature of the relationship between Churchill and Bracken is found in Churchill's history of World War II. Churchill writes that he had received telegrams from Washington about Harry Hopkins, "stating that he was the closest confidant and personal agent of the President. I therefore arranged that he should be met by Mr. Brendan Bracken on his arrival." The suggestion was that Churchill had arranged, as is diplomatic custom, for Hopkins to be met by the person who was his closest counterpart in British government, and that Bracken often played the role of confidant and personal agent to Churchill. After Bracken met Hopkins' flight on 9 January 1941, Churchill and Hopkins forged a close association. According to Lysaght's biography, Bracken and Hopkins had met in America in the late 1930s, and this personal tie helped speed the decision to assist Britain nearly a year before the USA actually entered the war.
Churchill made remarkably few references to Bracken's role in his political and personal life. Several intriguing explanations exist for this, ranging from a situation where Bracken merged with the fabric of Churchill's life to the extent of becoming invisible, to the more likely situation in which Churchill agreed to comply with Bracken's unique quest for no personal glory. The latter might be summarized by Bracken's apparent motive: "True hero worship is an entirely selfless process."
In 1945 Bracken was briefly made First Lord of the Admiralty but lost the post in the fall of the Churchill government to Clement Attlee's Labour Party. He himself lost his North Paddington seat but soon returned to the Commons, as member of parliament for Bournemouth in a November 1945 by-election. He was a relentless critic of the Labour Government's policy of nationalisation and the retreat from Empire. At the 1950 general election he was returned for Bournemouth East and Christchurch, a seat he held until the general election the following year. In early 1952 he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Bracken, of Christchurch in the County of Southampton, but never used the title nor sat in the House of Lords. He retired from publishing in 1956.
His best-known business accomplishment was merging the Financial News into the Financial Times in 1945. The latter was published from Bracken House, clad in pink stone to match the colour of the paper, just east of St. Paul's Cathedral, which was remodelled in 1989. At this stage he was also publishing The Economist. In 1926, he was the founding editor of The Banker magazine and they still name their respected annual Bank of the Year awards "Brackens" in his honour. The Banker featured a regular column called "Bracken", focusing on providing views and perspectives on how to improve the global financial system.
Such was Brendan Bracken's larger than life persona that he both intimidated and inspired many of his contemporaries. In one lifetime, to have been the model for the brash Rex Mottram in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and George Orwell's Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four, speaks to the immense contemporary size of the man himself. Because he destroyed all of his personal papers, the memory of his life has been open to mis-interpretation, mis-understanding, and historical neglect. If he had lived as a media mogul and politician in modern times, he would have been surrounded by an army of image and pr consultants. But Bracken did not appear to care about his personal image as much as he cared about fashioning an opportunity to contribute on the political and economic stage of his generation. Although he dated several glamorous ladies in the 1920s, including Penelope Dudley-Ward, he never married.
He died of esophageal cancer on 8 August 1958, aged 57. Although raised as a Catholic, Bracken refused the last rites of the Church despite efforts by his nephew, the Rev. Kevin Bracken, a Trappist monk at Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, County Antrim, to persuade him. "The Blackshirts of God were after me", Bracken reportedly said, "but I sent them packing!" Heirless, the viscountcy died with him.
2010 television documentary
On 21 December 2010, RTÉ One broadcast an hour long TV documentary about his life entitled Brendan Bracken - Churchill's Irishman. The programme was made by Spanish production company, Marbella Productions, in association with RTÉ, and examined Lord Bracken's life through photographs, interviews, rare archive footage and dramatic reconstructions, and told of his importance in the areas of British political and journalistic life, despite his attempt to hide from history by having all his papers burned after his death.
- Banking With Hitler, BBC, 16 February 2006. Retrieved 31 July 2011
- Lysaght, 2002
- Bracken profile at Oxford DNB; accessed 26 February 2014.
- History Today article by Charles Lysaght; accessed 26 February 2014.
- "Brendan Bracken Press Conference" 1943 photo, life.com; accessed 26 February 2014.
- Charles Lysaght, Brendan Bracken. Allen Lane, London (1979) pp. 172-173; ISBN 0-7139-0969-2, quoting 4 sources.
- Churchill, The Second World War, v.3, chap. 2, pp. 22-23
- Lysaght, pp.183-184.
- Irish Times, 9 August 2008
- The London Gazette: . 8 January 1952.
- The Bank of the Year Awards", The Banker
- "The Bracken Column" The Banker
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Brendan Bracken
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Sir William Perring
|Member of Parliament for Paddington North
1929 – 1945
Sir Noel Mason-Macfarlane
Sir Leonard Lyle, Bt
|Member of Parliament for Bournemouth
1945 – 1950
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East & Christchurch
1950 – 1952
Sir Duff Cooper
|Minister of Information
1941 – 1945
Sir A. V. Alexander
|First Lord of the Admiralty
Sir A. V. Alexander
|Peerage of the United Kingdom|
|New creation||Viscount Bracken